An art lover simply cannot visit London without a trip to the National Gallery, which holds some of the nation’s art treasures and overlooks the iconic Trafalgar Square. Just around the corner is the National Portrait Gallery, where you can see famous British portraiture from the 16th century to the present day. Also nearby is the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA), which hosts a number of current contemporary exhibitions as well as being home to a great cinema, bar and bookshop. Head towards Soho to find The Photographers’ Gallery tucked away on quiet Ramillies Street, just a stone’s throw away from Oxford Street. Here you will be able to see some of London’s best photography exhibitions and installations. Over at Piccadilly you will find The Royal Academy, which hosts a number of exhibitions each year, including the prestigious Royal Academy Summer Show.
West London is home to a multitude of London’s blue chip art galleries. Mayfair is the place to catch exhibitions of contemporary artists and see the art market in action, so be sure to check out Hauser & Wirth, David Zwirner and Gagosian Grosvenor Hill. If you fancy rubbing shoulders with some of the art world’s glitterati, check out gallery websites for opening nights. Sotheby’s and Christie’s auction houses are also close at hand, where you can catch auction previews, or if you time it right, sit in on an auction as it happens. Head north of Oxford Street and you will find the Wallace Collection, perhaps one of the prettiest collections in London. Housing art collected by the Seymour family, it includes beautiful French 18th century fine and decorative arts as well as a number of Old Master paintings, all with the backdrop of the equally stunning Hertford House, which was the Seymour family’s London residence for much of the 19th century.
For something more contemporary, take a stroll to Hyde Park, where you will find both the Serpentine Gallery and the Serpentine Sackler Gallery. The two galleries host a regularly changing programme and have held exhibitions by some of the world’s most renowned modern and contemporary artists, including Henry Moore, Marina Abramovic, and Anish Kapoor. Each year, the Serpentine Gallery commissions a temporary summer pavilion to be built in Hyde Park by a leading architect. Past commissions have included Zaha Hadid, Frank Gehry and Selgas Cano. For more contemporary art explorations, head to Chelsea and visit the Saatchi Gallery, first opened by the famous art collector Charles Saatchi. This gallery aims to showcase relatively unknown artists and has become celebrated for its occasionally controversial exhibitions. Also in the area is the V&A, which holds some of the finest collections of fine and decorative arts in the world and holds a number of blockbuster exhibitions throughout the year.
In leafy north London, the Camden Arts Centre is renowned for its contemporary art exhibitions and its engaging approach to both community and education. Look out for its exhibitions, events, workshops and forums. Also in the area is the Zabludowicz Collection, a fantastic gallery showing emerging artists in the UK housed in a former Methodist chapel.
If you find yourself in the Barbican or Moorgate area, then check out the Barbican Centre and its world-class art exhibitions, cinema, theatre, dance and musical performances. The building itself is something to behold and has become an icon of Brutalist style architecture. Alternatively, you can head to Aldgate East for the Whitechapel Gallery, which is home to an exciting programme of modern and contemporary art exhibitions, as well as a great café and bookshop; which has a great reputation due to its historical archive and educational resources. Whilst in the area you can also take a stroll up Brick Lane and try and spot some of its famous street art.
Since it first opened in 2000, the Tate Modern has become home to the UK’s collection of modern and contemporary art. With an impressive permanent collection, blockbuster exhibitions and the iconic Turbine Hall, it is certainly not one to miss. What’s more, with a huge new extension opening soon designed by architects Herzog & de Meuron, there has never been a more exciting time to visit!
If you head west along the river bank (or take the Tate Boat if you feel so inclined) you’ll find the Tate Britain. Here, visitors can enjoy one of the most comprehensive displays of historical and contemporary British art, including an extensive collection of art works by J. M. W. Turner. It is also home to the often controversial but much-coveted Turner prize.
For a contemporary art fix, check out White Cube Bermondsey, which has hosted exhibitions by artists such as Gilbert & George, Tracey Emin and Marc Quinn. If you fancy a slightly different kind of art, the Design Museum and the Fashion and Textile Museum are also in the area and definitely worth visiting. Continue on south for more contemporary art at the South London Gallery. The beautiful Victorian gallery space hosts exhibitions by emerging and established artists from across the world.
Fancy heading further south still? Visit England’s oldest public art gallery, the Dulwich Picture Gallery, which houses a rich collection of Old Masters paintings.